Wildland firefighter Steven Collins, plans to trek 50 miles Saturday (March 23) in full gear from Peñasco to Taos Ski Valley to raise awareness and money for the Wildland Firefighter Foundation.
The movie "Only the Brave" told the story of the 19 firefighters killed in the Yarnell Hill Fire in Arizona in 2013 and was an intense introduction for many people to the risks of wildland firefighting. Those men were among hundreds who have been injured or died while working to protect forests, water sources and communities.
In Peñasco, Steven Collins, a wildland firefighter who was recently hired as part of a Carson National Forest's Camino Real Ranger District engine crew, plans to trek 50 miles in a day to raise awareness and money for the Wildland Firefighter Foundation. The nonprofit foundation helps families with the immediate financial burden that happens when a firefighter is injured or killed on the job. He's doing the trek on his own and not as part of the Carson National Forest.
Collins, 29, intends to hike from Peñasco to Taos Ski Valley on Saturday (March 23) in his full fire gear while carrying a Pulaski, an essential tool firefighters use to battle a blaze. In an email, Collins said he is "promoting the Wildland Firefighter Foundation while putting forth a display of perseverance to promote a healthy lifestyle and wish everyone a safe fire season. Honoring firefighters who selflessly safeguard our public lands and well-being of our community is near and dear to my heart. I aspire to portray that heroic and brave sacrifice with this daunting venture."
He said while he hasn't personally known anyone injured or killed on a fire line, he's talked to plenty of fellow firefighters who have, including some who worked closely with the 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots of Prescott that died in the Yarnell fire. "I see how that affected them," Collins said. "It is hard not to have it impact you. Every year we have people who pass away fighting fires."
Collins has worked as a seasonal wildland firefighter for about seven years. His last big fire was the Mendecino Complex Fire in California, a massive blaze he helped battle for about two months. He's originally from Indianapolis.
Collins estimates Saturday's walk will take 12 hours. He'll begin at 5 a.m. and walk along state roads to and through Taos on his way to the ski valley.
Collins said the endeavor is a solo effort and he hasn't requested support from the forest service.
The Wildland Firefighter Foundation was formed after the 1994 Storm King fire near Glenwood Springs, Colorado, that killed 14 firefighters caught in its path. The foundation raises money to help firefighters and their families, plus provides educational programs. The website has a "Wall of Honor" for wildland firefighters who have died in the line of duty. It is a stark reminder of the human cost of fighting wildland fires, which have become more frequent, bigger and more intense in the last two decades.
If you see a firefighter walking along the road, that will be Collins. Honk, give him a thumbs-up and then go to the Wildland Firefighter Foundation at wffoundation.org to donate in his name on behalf of firefighters.
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